The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives quickly backed off a plan to effectively ban a type of ammunition for the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle two years ago, but Judicial Watch is not letting it drop.
The conservative watchdog group asked for records under the Freedom of Information Act in 2015, a month after the ATF announced the proposed regulation. The agency never responded, however, so Judicial Watch sued.
“The Obama ATF simply ignored our request on their ammo ban. Let’s hope the Trump administration finally brings transparency to this out-of-control agency.”
“This is yet another example of how [former President Barack] Obama’s wanton use of the ‘pen and the phone’ attempted to undermine the constitutional rights of all Americans, as opposed to upholding the rule of law,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a prepared statement on Monday. “The Obama ATF simply ignored our request on their ammo ban. Let’s hope the Trump administration finally brings transparency to this out-of-control agency.”
The scrapped ATF regulation would have reclassified M855 “green tip” bullets as “armor piecing” and revoked a 30-year-old exemption from the Law Enforcement Officer Protection Act of 1986.
The proposed regulation provoked a massive backlash among sportsmen and gun owners. More than 200 members for Congress wrote to the agency that they had “serious concern” about the proposal.
The regulation “does not comport with the letter or spirit of the law and will interfere with Second Amendment rights by disrupting the market for ammunition that law-abiding Americans use for sporting and other legitimate purposes,” the lawmakers wrote.
What’s more, the ATF received some 30,000 comments, most of them negative.
“They gave the giant some smelling salts,” recalled Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. “The pro-gun community really rose up … It was encouraging to see them pull it.”
Pratt said that to qualify as “armor piercing” under the law, the bullet needed to be able to be used in a handgun and be constructed entirely of steel. Although some handguns can fire the M855, he said, it is made only partially of steel.
“They basically put up the white flag on that one,” he said. “On the one hand, there still would have been ammunition for the AR-15. On the other hand, they were trying to ban a commonly used form of ammunition.”
Judicial Watch’s March 2015 FOIA request asked for all records of communications, including emails, to or from employees or officials of the ATF related to the proposed regulation change. According to the group’s civil complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, the ATF did not formally acknowledge the FOIA request or assign it a number.
Pratt said he is interested to see what Judicial Watch turns up. He said he sees the abandoned regulation as part of a pattern during the Obama administration.
“It was another attempt at incrementalism by the Obama administration,” he said.